Written 1950. Filmed August 1950 to March 1951. Released: Les Films Sirius, 1951 (France), Franco-London Films, 1952 (United Kingdom), Exploitation Productions (naturally), 1954 (United States). Produced by Raymond Eger. Directed by Leo Joannon. Running times vary from 82 to 98 minutes. Also known as Utopia (US) and Robinson Crusoeland (UK).
CAST: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair, Max Ellroy, Adriano Rimoldi, Luigi Tosi.
STORY: On their way to their newly inherited island, Stan and Ollie, along with a chef and a stowaway, wind up stuck on a different island (later to be christened Atoll K). When it is discovered that this island is rich with Uranium, Ollie prevents the world from fighting over it by declaring it "Crusoe Land", a veritable Libertarian/Anarchist paradise, where there are no laws and no taxes. An quick election is held and Ollie becomes President. When people start flocking to this new found utopia, Ollie is quickly thrown out of office and he and Stan are set to be hanged. But before long, a storm sinks Atoll K into the sea, and eventually Stan and Ollie wind up on their inherited island, where all their earthly possessions are taken away by - ha ha Mr. Wilson - the taxman.
After 1945's THE BULLFIGHTERS, Laurel and Hardy were
adrift. No longer the stars they once were in America (though they were
still worshipped overseas), they waited for offers that never came. For
the next few years, they toured Europe, performing live on stage in
Stan's delightful Driver's License sketch (which you can read in John
McCabe's THE COMEDY WORLD OF STAN LAUREL). After the tours, they
returned home to the United States, still without anything lined up in
the way of a new film.
Finally, in 1950, an offer came through. Typically, it came from overseas. A three-headed conglomerate from the movie industries of England, France and Italy expressed great interest in producing Laurel and Hardy's first film in 5 years, and so off the Boys went to Europe once more.
It would be nice to say that once there, they filmed one of their greatest features, a film they could proudly end their careers on. But sadly, the happy part of our story is over. The film, known variously as ATOLL K, UTOPIA and ROBINSON CRUSOE LAND, should have been cause for great joy. But from day one, conditions prevailed that would almost guarantee the film to be something less than a classic. The director, Leo Joannon, was by all counts, inept, or at least easily distracted. The "global village" makeup of the cast and crew meant that almost nobody knew what the person next to him was saying at any given time. Each actor would speak his line in his native tongue, and Stan and Ollie would react in English. (That they both manage to pull off decent performances, especially considering Stan's illnesses, is a tribute to the talent of both men.) The filming, such as it was, went on and on for nearly a year. (Consider that Laurel and Hardy usually made their best movies in a matter of weeks.)
During that year, Hardy developed a slight heart problem, and Stan fell ill with both prostate trouble and dysentery. In the final product, Oliver Hardy is nearly recognizable as the Babe we love (though he also looks tremendously overweight), but Stan looks awful. Thin, haggard, sickly, seemingly on the verge of death. It is Stan Laurel's appearance above everything that casts a sad shadow on ATOLL K. A man this sick simply should not have been making movies.
When ATOLL K was completed, it was released in Europe and two years later in America where it made nary a splash. And that was that. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had made their final film appearance together. Unfortunately, it was a dud.
Ironically, because it is now in public domain, ATOLL K is one of their most readily available films on home video. You can find many versions, some with, some without Suzy Delair's songs. (We even once came across a twenty minute version that began with Ollie's writing of Crusoeland's Constitution, just about two thirds into the film!). I'm not sure if this is a joke that Stan Laurel would have appreciated, though we can almost hear him laughing and saying "Babe and I did all these wonderful pictures, and what's the one you can buy anywhere? ATOLL K! Can ya beat that!?"
K (also known as "Utopia" and "Robinson Crusoeland") is a poorly
filmed, atrociously dubbed movie that probably should have never been
made. At the same time, in some ways it is one of their best later
films. That is the paradox that is ATOLL K.
The plot of ATOLL K is actually quite good. Stan inheriting an island, the Boys picking up some traveling companions, the whole gang deciding to turn it into a Country --- all this could have made for a diverting little satire on politics. The gags that are here are also in character --- Ollie taking apart the ship's engine, handing the parts to Stan, who places them so close to the edge of the deck that they fall into the sea as the ship rolls on --- and under any other circumstances, we would be laughing. And, despite the atrocious overdubbing, the man with no country and the Italian stowaway are actually quite likable and work well with the Boys.
But this film has many problems. At this late age, Ollie's voice has lost much of its charm and subtlety. Even at that, he still manages a good, funny and sometimes touching performance. But Stan looks like he is about to keel over at any moment. He takes a few pratfalls here and there, and with every one, you wonder if he is ever going to get up. It is extremely painful to watch an ill Stan Laurel trying his best to get through filming each scene without fainting. (Halfway through the film, Stan grows five o'clock shadow on his face and for a while it helps disguises some of the ravages of his illnesses.)
The dubbing of voices obviously took place in somebody's bathroom, with everyone yelling into a microphone placed conveniently in an empty toilet bowl.
Had ATOLL K been made at Fox Studios five years earlier, it might have been the best of the bunch. But time took its toll on all the great comedians, and Laurel and Hardy, unfortunately, were no exception. On stage in their later years, where the audience is farther away and suspenison of disbelief is easer to achieve, I'm sure they were divine. But one of the (many) problems of the later films of Laurel and Hardy was that our heroes could no longer be called "The Boys". They seemed instead to be "The Old Men".
Every fan of the Boys should see ATOLL K at least once, tip their hats to Stan and Babe for a noble effort, and then move on to more important things, like WAY OUT WEST, Blotto, or even Me and My Pal.